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Social Justice and Advocacy releases statement on Ontario budget

The following is a statement from the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Committee.

Low-income people in Ontario, who make up one in every eight Ontarians, will see modest improvements through the 2013 provincial budget. However, political leadership and public support are needed if the promise of poverty reduction and social assistance reform is to be made real.

The budget includes some rule changes and steps supported by other church and anti-poverty advocates:

  • Enabling people on social assistance to earn up to $200 per month before deductions.
  • Raising the amount of money people can have in the bank when applying for social assistance.
  • Finding ways to give social assistance recipients better access to Employment Ontario services.
  • An extra $14 per month benefit increase for single people on social assistance, acknowledging their deep poverty.

However, the budget is disappointing in key areas. Social assistance recipients will receive a meagre 1 per cent increase, except for the extra $14 per month for single people mentioned above. Despite a minimum wage freeze since 2010, the working poor were only offered a commission to consider further increases. Except for additional funding for First Nations housing, no additional funds were provided for affordable housing, even through more than 150,000 Ontario households are waiting for such housing.

Another major disappointment is the failure to implement a scheduled increase in the Ontario Child Benefit to $1,310 per child in July, a key element of Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Instead, this benefit for low-income families will only rise to $1,210 this July, and to $1,310 in July, 2014.

We cannot blame the government alone for the minimal progress made to combat poverty. Ontario’s political parties and all of us need to re-commit themselves to poverty reduction. Public support can play a key role in providing the resources needed to provide truly brighter prospects for more than a million Ontarians struggling to meet their basic needs for food, housing and other essentials. As Archbishop Colin Johnson noted in his pre-budget brief to the Ontario government: “Poverty and inequality are not inevitable. They are the results of choices we make in public policy.”

However, progress has been made through this budget, affirming the value of citizen action. The challenge before us is to sustain that pressure, with MPPs of all parties. Ontario needs a renewed anti-poverty strategy and action to implement the positive measures from Brighter Prospects, the report of Ontario’s Social Assistance Review Commission.  To its credit, the government indicated that it will create a second Poverty Reduction Strategy for Ontario, with a new Cabinet Committee to oversee this work. Reform of the social assistance system is to be a “cornerstone” of this work.

“Anglicans witness the hardship caused by poverty in our outreach work,” says Bishop Philip Poole. “That’s why we’re pushing for the public policies to address the root causes of poverty, hunger and homelessness.”

 See Social Justice and Advocacy.